I’ve described my dad as the most patient man I know.
As a child I performed such action items as:
- sneaking up and poking the newspaper sharply as he was reading it
- pushing the bottom of the glass when he drank
- leaping on his back while he was trying to get dressed
- shaking him awake when I couldn’t go to sleep
- wrapping around his leg as he walked down the hall
- lying in wait around the corner and scaring the crap out of him when he walked by
- demanding he do the dishes a certain way
- getting frustrated when I had to repeat something because he’s deaf in one ear
- being embarrassed when he took too long to order at a fast food restaurant
In turn, my father responded by:
- allowing me to perform a 10 minute “tucking in” process for a 5 second nap, ad nauseum
- letting me sit on his lap and steer during the last stretch of road
- building me a sandbox; a playhouse with shelves and a flat, carpeted roof; wooden fairy wings, a gigantic study desk
- giving innumerable horsey rides as my sister and I banged on his ribs with our legs
- explaining the Iran – Contra affair over and over because I didn’t want to go to bed
- waiting for hours with me in his office so I could use his computer and printer to type out papers
- staying up countless nights as I struggled with calculus homework
- walking me down the aisle for my first marriage
- giving his instant blessing for my second
When I was five, I loved to make up races. Okay, so we start by running – to there! And then twirl to the sandbox! And then hop to the tree! And then cartwheels to the blueberries! And then skip to the bushes!
My dad can’t skip. Maybe studies have been done on this, maybe it’s genetics, but for whatever reason, the man has never been able to step, hop – step, hop. But every single time (EVERYSINGLETIME) my dad would go for it. We’d get to the end, to the skipping, and I’d hear him start to laugh. So I’d turn around (of course he let me stay ahead) while skipping madly toward the finish line, and see him hopping awkwardly, off-balance, his thin limbs flailing, his hair flapping in the wind. Then I’d start to laugh and he’d laugh more, still hopping, and we’d both laugh so hard we cried.
I think I created these races purely for those last moments. My dad was never macho. Never the kind of man who couldn’t let his kids see him fail at something. He was gentle, soft-spoken, quick to laugh with kind blue eyes, and compassionate to strangers. He still is. In semi-retirement, my dad worked at a huge supermarket, at the register. People would stand in his line just to chat with him for a few moments, to let him know their grandkid just won a spelling bee, or that their car had to get another timing belt, or that they’d been struggling with arthritis. He learned to say hello in as many languages as he could so if he met someone from there, he could greet them.
Now that he’s retired, he spends a lot of time with my nephew. Together, they go on adventures. I like to think my nephew has an inkling of how lucky he is. To have a man in his life who isn’t afraid to look silly, who will listen to (and laugh at) jokes read out of a terrible joke book, who will say to his daughter Find what you love to do, what you would do for free, and Do That.
When I was seven, I participated in a study on adopted children. A woman getting her doctorate in something was looking for children to interview for her dissertation and my mom asked me if I’d like to participate. I always loved talking about being adopted, so I agreed readily.
At one point during the interview, the woman asked me if I ever imagined what my birth parents looked like. Well…I trailed off. No, I hadn’t, I realized. I mean, my parents were my parents and I’d never known any others. Trying to imagine my birth parents was like trying to describe the feel of a unicorn. But ever the good student, I rambled glibly about how my birth mother must have had long hair, like me, and how my birth father had a mole on his neck and kind eyes. I described how his hair would flap in the wind and how he was very thin and laughed a lot and couldn’t skip. The woman sat behind her desk and stared at me. Uh huh, she said, scribbling something. That’s my dad, I said. Are we done?
Happy Father’s Day – to my dad, my uncles, my friends who are fathers and my husband, who’s a bit of a superhero father himself. May you run many races and always finish skipping.